Student Conner Smeets strings his bachelor's together

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Student Conner Smeets strings his bachelor's together

Conner Smeets, bachelor's student of Industrial Engineering, has an unorthodox way of taking notes during lectures: he writes them as poetry. The young wordsmith finds this helps him better understand the content because writing poetry requires a certain understanding that forces you to master the material.

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photo Bridget Alcione Spoor

“My friends encouraged me to get in touch with Cursor about my study habits. As well as writing poetry, I often write jokes prompted by the material we're learning. It helps me better understand the material instead of just memorizing it.” Readers with some knowledge of statistics and/or economics are challenged later in this article to discover the dual layers of meanings in Conner's poems.

“There's a poem I wrote during my second statistics resit. To convey the feeling of studying statistics, I made it grammatically correct in every way, yet the finished poem is nonetheless highly confusing. Primarily because of the active use of the verb forms ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’, just as stochastic variables deal with actively ‘being’ or ‘non-being’. The poem is about the discussion surrounding free will, and how statistics can be used to argue that free will really does exist.”

Stochastic essence

The deterministic
Believe being bound to be realistic
Things are or they don't
Changing, they won't
Blameless they roamed
While the prophets got stoned
Like they were stoned on the day they found no fault with the cold of their hearts as not their hearts but their smarts had gotten them told that free will grew old when it fitted the mold of deterministics and physics that the wise men sought, first fought, then bought as if it were determined that it would be sold

One haven was left, as but statistics fled
For they knew things aren't or are they don't be or not it's a matter of significance that the wise never sought: something is not is or isn't, it's both at once, when we say it is it's more is than isn't, when we say it's not it's more not than be. The significant cut off: what they failed to see. Failed to see more than succeeded, so failed to those for which stochastics never heeded

There will always be some, as significantly pleaded

Math versus statistics

“In other branches of math something either is or is not, and that is fixed and unchanging, but in statistics you are always in with a chance. For example, if you have a toddler compete against Usain Bolt, there's a chance that the toddler will win. The likelihood is extremely small, but winning and losing are both outcomes. In statistics, a thing can be and not be, until case by case you get a particular outcome.”

Despite his deep thoughts, he isn't necessarily good at statistics. “I had to resit the course twice, but the last time, when I wrote the poem above, I did manage to pass.” For Conner, boredom was part of what started his poetry writing. “I had the academic skills to study normally, but I was bored. This was particularly obvious during corona. I'd be watching lectures from my sofa, lacking any external incentive to stay focused. That's when I started writing down jokes about the material, to share later with other students. Doing that helped me keep on paying attention. For example, something you can estimate using statistics is how long you'll have to wait for the elevator. And in Atlas we have elevators that can take forever to reach you. The formulas that apply here are the same as those taught in our lessons.”

Focus

That writing poetry helps him stay focused on his work was a happy consequence rather than his aim. “Mainly, it makes it more fun, more interesting. Everyone has their own learning style, and for a lot of people that means pretty much copying down the slides. That doesn't work for me at all. For me, depth of understanding is important, and that's what's so good about wanting to write a poem or make a joke about something: it forces you to understand the material because the creative process entails digging deeper. And word craft is something Conner feels comfortable with. “As well as engineering, linguistics really grabbed my interest, but it's a field with scant work opportunities. So I opted for IE, and by working like this, I can sort of combine the two.” Whether he still hopes to do something using them both in his working life? “Maybe, if the chance arises. But I don't think it's probable.” For the time being, he's going to carry on musing on statistical themes…

Perhaps it's also not gone unnoticed that Conner is one of the few students who never has a laptop open in front of him. “I always write on paper. And sometimes on my cellphone when I'm traveling by train.” Poems come to Conner fairly spontaneously: “I might have two a week, but months can go by with nothing. And don't imagine everything comes together straight away; 90 percent is just plain bad.”

Coincidence does exist

“At the beginning, I didn't enjoy statistics at all. It didn't seem logical to me. I had to write down formulas without actually knowing what they meant. But now I really enjoy it, even though I'm still not good at it. But statistics helps you understand the world better. Especially where coincidence is concerned.” So let's jump straight to one of the most fundamental questions: does coincidence really exist? “Coincidence exists and you can use statistics to get a clearer sense of it. I was once walking up the stairs, for instance, when suddenly something fell over. That left me feeling anxious. There are so many coincidental events, at least so it seems. But when you learn statistics, you learn that actually it's normal for so many coincidental things to happen. Statistics is the framework for what happens in life.”

“Coincidence is when it's a little improbable that something is the way it is. Is something hard to believe? Then maybe you're right to be skeptical. For example, when someone says ‘I just fill in any old thing on a test’ and they get nines every time. That is improbable, but it is possible. Coincidence exists, but recurring coincidence does not.”

Want to read more from Conner? He will have plenty of opportunities to write more poems in the coming academic years, especially during statistics where he still has ten (!) modules to complete.

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